Many of us live by the motto “dogs are a man’s best friend.” What if there was more to the saying than meets the eye? It turns out that scientists could have an answer as to why dogs are so friendly.
Evolving from wolves
There is one thing that many researchers have investigated over the years: where domesticated dogs came from. We have learned that they evolved from wolves, even if we still have no definitive answer to who chose who first. All we do know is that around 10,000 years ago, something happened, and wolves started to work alongside humans for the first time. It wasn’t long before the two species formed an unbreakable bond as they became domestic animals that protected their new owners and helped to gather food for tribes. Dogs have been evolving ever since, with hundreds of breeds now in the gene pool.
Noticing the friendly behavior
Evolutionary biologist Bridgett von Holdt is one of the many people who has noticed how friendly dogs can be, especially thanks to her own English sheepdog named Marla. Bridgett spotted that Marla wants to be friends with just about everyone she meets and wondered what made her that way. The biologist wasn’t alone. Ever since, Bridgett and her colleagues have spent years trying to learn all about the underlying genetic basis that molds social behavior in both wolves and domestic dogs. It wasn’t long before they learned that dogs are more social than wolves who are raised around humans as they follow commands and pay more attention to their owners.
It’s all in the genes
It wasn’t long before Bridgett and others worked on a study to see what was hardwired into domestic dogs that made them so sociable. They learned that hypersocial dogs carry variants of two specific genes called GTF2IRD1 and GTF2I. Humans also have these genes, but if they are missing, people are diagnosed with Williams syndrome. One of the defining features of the syndrome is people’s tendency to love everyone. Bridgett gathered 10 wolves who had been raised around humans and 18 domestic dogs to see who could follow instructions. They were taught how to open a box with a treat inside, then asked to open it by a familiar human, by someone they didn’t know, and with no one in the room.
Investigating the findings
The study showed that the wolves all opened the box more often in all three scenarios, even when no one was around. The dogs? They were often highly distracted by people as they were too busy looking for someone else to open the box for them. Bridgett also found another gene, WBSCR17, was altered in dogs and wolves. The result? It appears that humans have actually bred dogs to be more friendly than their wolf counterparts.
If you’ve ever wondered why dogs are so friendly, you’re not alone. In fact, scientists have now learned that their friendliness might not be a happy accident – it’s all thanks to their genetic code.